Voices of a People’s History: Stories of Truth and Peace for a New Generation, a fundraiser for the Nonviolent Peaceforce taking place Monday, April 7 at the College of St. Catherine, will feature Howard Zinn and a stellar cast of notable Minnesotans delivering speeches vital to our country’s past. As Jenny Warner, a volunteer on the event’s organizing committee, puts it, “it will be a night to wear waterproof mascara.”
The “voices” will be pulled from celebrated historian and activist Howard Zinn’s collection Voices of a People’s History of the United States. Zinn himself—professor emeritus of political science at Boston University—will participate in the performance, reading The Problem is Civil Disobedience, a speech he wrote in 1971.
Nonviolent Peaceforce volunteers who organized the event managed to round up a stunning cast of Minnesotans. Among them, Isabell Monk O’Connor will read Sojourner Truth’s 1851 Ain’t I a Woman? and Maria Stewart’s Address Delivered at the African Masonic Hall in Boston (1833); Lou Bellamy will deliver Eugene Debs’s Canton, Ohio Speech (1918), Winona LaDuke will read Chief Joseph Recounts his Trip to Washington D.C. (1879), and Melvin Carter III, Martin Luther King’s Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence (1967). Hitting a more current note, recent Macalester College graduate Sarah Levy will perform To Avoid Another September 11, U.S. Must Join the World (2001) by Rita Lasar. The curtains will open and close with music: Prudence Johnson will start the night off and Jearlyn Steele will usher it out.
Zinn’s Voices was also made into a documentary called The People Speak, which premiered at the Museum of Modern Art in New York this February. The documentary features well-known Hollywood actors delivering these historic speeches. “I’m just really excited that we got really great local talent,” says Jenny Warner. “It’s a Minnesota cream-of-the-crop production, not Hollywood actors flown in.”
Monday night’s performance will mark the first time all of the performers have appeared on stage together. “A lot of these actors haven’t worked together before,” Warner explained. “They’ve all been sent their scripts, but Howard Zinn sends the scripts and they don’t rehearse—they are only getting together an hour before the performance. They’re basically going to throw the dice and see what happens on stage.”
Warner is excited about rousing awareness for the Nonviolent Peaceforce. “I’m excited to see the Nonviolent Peaceforce advertised to a new audience,” she said. “It’s a really great organization, and it’s the only unarmed peace force in the world.”
By reminding people of the struggles suffered by many in the United States, the performance will hopefully inspire each person to consider how best to enact his or her own agency within our current world affairs. “People are ready for it,” Warner said. “The notion of having a Peace Department is actually being talked about in our country, and that’s really exciting.”
Ellen Frazel (email@example.com) is a student at Macalester College.